How a Government Shutdown Affects Military Pay & Benefits

Written by: Craig Richardson

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The threat of another government shutdown is becoming almost as commonplace a news story as the threat of another hurricane.

The problem is both can end in disasters if you don’t take steps to prepare.

In the event of a government shutdown, the consequences of inaction will be felt far and wide, and heavily within the military community.

For starters, some 2.1 million active-duty military members and reservists could be without a paycheck for days, weeks or even months, if politicians don’t settle their differences. A shutdown will impact family members, veterans, retirees, and others linked to the nation’s vast defense network.

And while there will be no pay for those serving the country, service members will still be expected to show up to work.

“A shutdown … puts the government on a complete standstill,” said Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh during a recent discussion with the Pentagon press corps. “[But] the U.S. military is going to continue to do its job and protect our national security interests and … those of our allies and partners as well.”

Singh later emphasized that there will be challenges to the young service members who provide that security, to their families, and to the long-term readiness that comes from the training that keeps them combat ready.

“A shutdown would be detrimental,” Singh said. “Troops would go without pay. Military families would be impacted, of course. For folks that are not getting paychecks, which impacts how and when [they] can buy groceries, child care, all of these things.’

The nonprofit organization Blue Star Families reports that one in three military families has less than $3,000 in savings, while the Defense Department estimates nearly one in four service members has trouble putting food on the table.

The last government shutdown lasted 35 days (Dec. 22, 2018, through Jan. 25, 2019). It was the longest government shutdown in history.

So, how will this impact military personnel, retirees, and all those who rely on VA benefits and federal programs?

Will the Military Get Paid During a Government Shutdown?

If a funding bill fails to pass Congress, pay is frozen for federal employees, including the nation’s military personnel.

There always is a chance members would pass a half-measure that would allow for military personnel to be paid, even if the budget battle was not fully solved. In 2018, prior to the government’s last shutdown, lawmakers were able to pass a measure that allowed military personnel to continue being paid throughout the shutdown.

Efforts to pass a similar measure have not been successful.

Will Military Retirement Pay Be Affected by a Government Shutdown?

Fortunately, military retirement pay is not impacted by a government shutdown because its funding is not subject to congressional funding. As a result, retired military personnel will still receive their scheduled pension payments, as will those who receive Survivor Benefit Plan payments.

Will VA Benefits Be Affected by a Government Shutdown?

Will veterans still receive disability compensation? Some benefits and services provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs are not affected by a shutdown, while others will pause until an agreement is reached.

On the upside, compensation, pension, education (GI Bill) and housing benefits continue to be processed and delivered. VA medical centers, outpatient clinics and veteran centers remain open. Burials will continue at VA national cemeteries, and applications for headstones, markers, and burial benefits processing continue.

Services impacted by the shutdown include veteran career counseling or transition assistance program activities. VA education benefits contact centers will close, as will the VA benefits regional offices and some other administrative functions of the VA.

Will GI Bill Benefits Be Impacted by a Government Shutdown?

Will college students still get their tuition and housing paid for? Again, the VA will continue to process and deliver education and housing benefits during a shutdown.

The Pay Our Troops Act 2023

The Pay Our Troops Act is a measure that would ensure that military personnel — as well as some Department of Defense employees and contractors — are paid if the government shut down. Similar measures were passed during shutdowns in 1995, 2013 and 2018, allowing active-duty personnel and reservists to be paid during the funding lapses. While a 2023 version of the act has been circulated, it never had adequate support for passage.

Managing Your Finances During a Government Shutdown

While there’s no silver lining to showing up to work without a paycheck, service members can take solace that when the shutdown ends, all federal workers who went without their paychecks will receive retroactive compensation.

But any missed pay won’t arrive until your next regularly scheduled check. In other words, there’s a good chance that you will need a plan to make ends meet for a while. Some organizations are stepping up to help.

Navy Federal Credit Union, which is open to all branches of the military, offers a paycheck assistance program, which will provide an advance on direct deposit to eligible members. Similarly, USAA offers a one-time no interest loan and other payment relief options to its members impacted by the shutdown. USAA’s no-interest loan would be equal to an eligible member’s net pay from $500 to $6,000.

Additional resources include on-base food banks, Army Emergency Relief, the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, the Air Force Aid Society, the Department of the Navy Civilian Employee Assistance Program Coast Guard Mutual Assistance Relief Society, and Military OneSource.

If at all possible, try to avoid borrowing from lenders that offer unsecured loans with high interest rates such as payday loan lenders. There are also a number of options available for debt forgiveness and relief, many of which are specifically designed for military personnel.

About The Author

Craig Richardson

Craig Richardson is a military veteran who started his journalism career while serving in the Navy. Following overseas deployments to the Med and Middle East, including service in Operation Desert Storm, he left for the private sector but continued with journalism. He has worked for several publishers and news organizations over nearly 30 years and continued to cover stories with ties to veterans and military affairs throughout his career.


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